Links

We have a blog about bits and pieces (eg. cool places for dinners in Berlin) and also about what some of us are dining on around the world on

http://berlindinnerclub-news.blogspot.com/

We also have a pictorial blog of photos from various members on

http://www.flickr.com/photos/berlindinnerclub

For fun, I am doing a personal picture blog with a new picture for every day of the year 2007 :

http://www.flickr.com/photos/photoaday2007/

The above links are perhaps possibly (in a maybe fun sort of way) worth bookmarking in your browser (well, I think so anyway). Also, your contributions are very welcome and I will publish your material if you give me permission to do so. If you have any comments at all about them, I would really like to hear from you.

 

Personal Restaurant Reviews

 Facil

I often go to Facil whenever I am in Berlin, and it is simply a great place. The atmosphere is understated but stunning, the food is delicious and the wines are just superb. I was rather sad to hear that Facil got mentioned in some budget airline magazines as I think Facil caters for a rather refined clientele who appreciates good cooking, simple elegance and refined indulgence. But maybe more people will get to understand that great food is not about strong tastes and big portions, but just enough to stimulate the senses and satisfy, and that is what Facil does so sublimely well.

PS. Don't take teenagers there - MacDonalds is around the corner. Leave them there with 50 Euro and sneak back to Facil! :o)

FrŁhsammers

This is a restaurant located, strangely, in the premises of the Berlin-Grunewald Tennis Club, and is basically not too easy to get to with public transport. But it is really worth the effort as the food is quite amazing and really good value for money. The cook has had a Michelin star before, gave it up, and is now back with a vengeance to attain back that star. So this restaurant goes that extra little inch to make their clients happy, and it shows.

The restaurant itself is located towards the rear of a rather imposing villa, which serves as the clubhouse and administrative centre. It is not the most elegantly fitted out restaurant and the few brass items of fishy items look a little kitsch. The clientele is rather staid and upper middle-class but everyone seemed appreciative of their dinner, and for a good reason, as the food here is really very fine indeed.

Dinner started with 2 kinds of amuse bouche, both elegant and interesting and delicious. The goose liver mousse was a little too light for me but the scallops and lobster were wonderful, and so is the monkfish (seeteufel). However, the absolute highlight was the pigeon breast, which was superbly cooked with the tastiness of rare meat but without the chewiness. Hr Fruehsammer came out himself to explain that this is a special breed of pigeon, imported from France and his is the only place that serves it in Berlin.

The wines were a trifle limited in choice, but was still a good selection. I can heartily recommend the Chilean Anakena 2003 Carmenere, which was a steal. Overall, this is one restaurant that makes it into my favourites list on the first go, and that does not happen often.

Margaux

I have taken friends and clients to Margaux, ostensibly THE top restaurant in Berlin (with 2 Michelin stars), and it has never been disappointing. There is absolutely no disputing that the decor and atmosphere exudes class, the maitre'd is suitably subservient, the general service is excellent and so is the wine list. The food is, well, perhaps a trifle experimental, and not what one would expect in a German restaurant, not even such a fine restaurant. But I liked it, especially the delicate (and totally transparent!) Badiot water sauce that graced a dish of fine rare beef. The chef does not skimp on ideas that entertain and that is a rare quality in Germany. There are many fine cooks in the country, but not many that dare to entertain and play with the food. Perhaps that can turn some people off, especially diners who expect sturdy hunks of meat and sizable portions. I don't know. Some of my guests were a little bemused but mostly they liked the place. And so do I, though one or two bills did make me wince a little, but that's more due to the wines than the menu.

But I have to say that the last couple of times I was there (last quarter 2007), the menu has become a trifle more staid, which is a pity, but I can understand why.

Fischers Fritz

If one likes fish, not seafood, but good fresh fish cooked supremely well and served without the pompous French tendency to smother everything in a buttery cream sauce, then this is THE place to go. The atmosphere is old-school and charming in a 1930's sort of style upgraded tastefully with some 21st-century fittings. And it works well and feels really comfortable and elegant without the pushiness of some exclusive places. The staff are courteous and efficient, and they even smile at you (politely, of course). If one is perplexed about what wine to choose for the gilthead, then the chef can also be called upon to make a suggestion! Really.

I understand that this place has received its second Michelin star late last year and the only question was why it took so long. Apart from, say, Akelare or Martin Berasategui in San Sebastian, I cannot think of a better fish restaurant in Europe, and certainly not in Germany, although perhaps the Schwarzwalder Stube might come a close second. And amazingly, it is actually not that expensive!

Viengthai

The cook here is a short fat bubbly Thai lady who knocks up the most authentic Thai curries in Berlin. Regrettably, it seems that the unavailability of some fresh Thai herbs precludes her from making even more dishes but the menu is comprehensive enough to satisfy any Thai cravings one might develop. It's not a place that people would normally find in a tourist guide, mainly because it's stuck in an unfashionable part of Wedding. But that's good, as it's very seldom packed out, except once in a while, when the girls from the Thai brothel across the road comes over for dinner en masse with their clients! :o)

The pad thai flat rice noodles are particularly nice as well as the red curries, though I really cannot fault any of the other dishes, except for some chewy squid ordered by mistake once. When I worked full-time in Berlin, I used to live not too far from here so I would mosey over 2-3 times a week for dinner. The prices have crept up well above inflation over the years and now it's comparable to prices in, say, Oranienburgerstrasse, which is still pretty darn cheap compared to London but not compared to other restaurants in the area.

The decor is stale Asian and a trifle tatty, as the place has been around a few years, but it's always clean and the service staff are very pleasant. The cook herself would sometimes come out just to meet old customers. There are 2 sections in the restaurant - a small front area near the street window and an inner dim dining hall where sometimes some ladies may be seen whispering with their clients. So the atmosphere is not exactly elegant and perhaps it is not the place to bring someone you really want to impress. However, as far as authentic Thai food goes, this place wins hands down for me in Berlin, and is worth coming in a group, especially in the evening, so that you can share and sample more of Su Wan's cooking!

Bocca di Bacco

A stylish restaurant that cooks the best Italian food I know in Berlin. Yes, thatís right - even better than Ana e Bruno. The pasta always arrives perfectly al dente, the sauces are light and fragrant, the veggies and meats are tender and wholesome, and there was nothing to complain about during the 4-5 times I have been here. The decor is uber-cool, with subtle lighting and neat leather wall benches, with a matching efficient and pleasant service. To be honest, I am not the greatest fan of Italian dining outside of Italy, mainly because I find many exported Italian wines so disappointing, but I can heartily recommend this place to anyone who wants to impress a friend or two in Berlin without breaking the bank.

Paris Moskau

It was widely rumoured that Chirac and Putin were entertained here by the then German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder several years ago, so that gives an idea of the sort of place this is. Itís also convenient for me as I can cycle there quite easily from where I stay in Berlin.

The restaurant is inside an old detached house not far from the Reichstag and is spread over 2 floors. Downstairs is more convivial and the upstairs is perhaps a touch more private, with an additional separate dining room. The atmosphere is pleasantly rustic (and a little dilapidated) as it is an old building transformed into a restaurant in the late 1990ís, using a mix of antique and contemporary fittings, but mostly those from earlier eras. Itís hard for me to decide whether I liked the decor as it reminds me of a German friendís motherís house but some might also find it quaint or charming or something like that.

If one can, always order the set menu of the evening. Ordering a la carte seems to cause some sort of pertubation in the whole fabric of the place and things can become very (very) slow, as I found to my cost. The food is always done well but I feel it lacks the flair of some other restaurants in the same price bracket. However, saying that, it is a place that most Germans would love, as it is good German home-cooking presented as gourmet cuisine blended with a mix of Alsatian and Parisian influences. (I have not noticed any Russian influence.) The best dish I had there was wachtel, or quail, done superbly well with wild mushrooms.

This restaurant also has an interesting history, which one can read about in the menu. It is a rustic place, with a nice ambience and is typical of the sort of (good) order that came out of the chaos of the reunification of Berlin. If one had a few days to spend in Berlin, it would definitely be worth spending an evening here to taste German food as it should (or could) have been.

Lutter u. Wegner am Gendarmenmarkt

I often hear Germans rave about Lutter u. Wegner, and several times over the last few years, I have been persuaded to sample the legendary schnitzel and wines here.

As restaurants go, it really cannot be said that this is a bad restaurant. The decor is traditional, with a scattering of painted murals, and befits an establishment that was founded early in the 19th century. The atmosphere is of an elegant old wine bar (which is exactly what it is), and in the evenings there tend to be a rather mature clientele mixed with more than a spattering of tourists.

Food is always good here, but one would be hard pressed to call it gourmet. Satisfying would be a better word to employ. It is here that I first sampled sauerbraten many years ago. But the main dish here is the schnitzel, done lovingly as Austrian grandmothers have been doing for centuries. The better value wines here are invariably German and Austrian but the waiterís recommendations can be haphazard and as I donít normally drink whites, I was caught out a couple of times by my lack of knowledge.

Overall, itís a restaurant frequented by older middle-class and upper middle-class Germans and although itís in a touristy area, it maintains a certain dignity and poise, mainly by keeping the prices just high enough to deter the riff-raff, who would probably wander off to the cheaper Maredos down the road.

Oh, and regarding the schnitzels, this might sound like heresy but perhaps one might find the offerings at Ottenthal, Austria and Borchardt in Berlin at least comparable. FiglmŁller in Vienna is also pretty darn good at this dish as well.

MAOA

It sometimes helps if one knows what one wants from a restaurant. Often, people blindly wander into a restaurant, vaguely expecting (a) ambience, (b) huge portions, (c) tasty food, (d) a big menu, (e) a great wine list, (f) a small bill, or, usually (g) all of the above. But then, halfway through the meal, they realise that their hopes have been futile and then they leave with a delicate sense of disappointment, only to repeat the same experience again and again.

Well, apart from (e), the MAOA comes closest to satisfying the demanding (g) criteria above. This is a concept place, based along the lines of a Mongolian BBQ, but updated to fit in neatly with the 21st century. The decor is clean, modern with lots of solid dark wood and smart stylish fittings. There are several sections in this huge place, starting with an open cocktail/drinks lounge, then banks of small tables in front, with larger tables in the middle and back. There are also 2 quite large private dining rooms, so itís a place to have a company function as well. (Itís too cold for birthday parties, I think.) The atmosphere is pretty cool (as long as you donít mind the flatscreens playing non-stop DVDs of fireplaces/aquariums/etc), so no-one would ever feel uncomfortable here.

The self-service food is presented raw in a long bar that must stretch 25-30 metres. And itís a satisfying bar, with lots of options for vegetarians and also lots of exotic meats and seafood as well. Iíve come across kangaroo, crocodile, zebra, ostrich, etc, mixed in with beef, chicken and lamb and there is also usually a nice selection of fish and shellfish. Once your bowl is filled, leave it on the cookís bar and itíll be cooked and brought to your table. In one of the private rooms, thereís a flatscreen showing the cooks in action.

So far so good. However, one must be warned that the service does not match the decor. One waiter explained that this is the biggest Asian restaurant in Berlin and it involves a lot of walking, so donít expect your drinks to arrive in a hurry. Nor the bread and dips that you get for starters. Nor the tray with the hole that you need for serving yourself. Sometimes, itís a full 30 mins before you are set to visit the food bar, but overall, I think it is worth the wait.

There are 2 serving options: (a) a single round and (b) unlimited, eat-till-you-die rounds. I used to plump for (b) until I realised that one only FEELS like dying but it never happens, so now I settle for the more comfortable single round, once I found out which are my favourite sauces.

Itís a great place to go with friends or to have a corporate event, but donít expect things to flow quickly and smoothly, despite the efficient modern look of the restaurant. In terms of value for money, if you like heaps and heaps of tasty Asian food (unlimited, really), then you canít beat this place.

Vau

Vau is a classy restaurant run by a celebrity cook who likes to sing while cooking. It is one of the more convivial of the top restaurants in Berlin, and the brightly lit place enables one to be seen and, in turn, to watch Berlin high society while away time in the evenings. Sometimes it can be a trifle noisy with the sound of cheerful conversations but I like that better than stony formal silences.

The decor is contemporary, not excessively elegant but sensibly comfortable with the accent on warm ambient lighting so no-one ever needs to squint to see oneís neighbours. The service is normally very good unless the place is packed, which happens too often for my liking, but nobody seems to mind.

The food, best described as modern European, reflects a certain joy of cooking and massages the senses of sight and smell as well as the tastebuds. There is nothing out of the ordinary here but every course is always supremely well cooked and varies from delicate monkfish to sturdy venison. The wine list is substantial but not always economic, although with some effort, a good bottle can always be found which does not break the bank.

In short, although it can be very variable (I had an awful night here once), this is often a place which everyone would wish to be their local restaurant, especially if the prices are a little lower. It is bright, cheerful, refined but uncomplicated, delicious but not pompous, and is noticeably much better when Hr Kleeburg is cooking.